'It's awesome' - children try out Cape Town playground for the blind

2016-08-24 10:14
Athlone School for the Blind principal Fletcher Fisher with the pupils as they test a public park in Bellville that also caters to the blind (Jenni Evans, News24)

Athlone School for the Blind principal Fletcher Fisher with the pupils as they test a public park in Bellville that also caters to the blind (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Cape Town - A group of Bellville primary school children had the honour of being the first to enjoy one of Cape Town's first playgrounds for the blind on Tuesday.

"It's awesome!" beamed one partially sighted girl, the thick lenses of her bright pink spectacles shining in the sun.

"I love it," said a small boy waiting for his turn on the swings. The cowbell attached to the side of the swing clanged to warn him and others to walk carefully in that area.

A little boy rested one hand on his friend's shoulder as the two walked to the impromptu game of football in a small enclosed area.

"See how the children help each other," said Fletcher Fisher, principal of Athlone School for the Blind, which is situated around the corner from the park.

"The blind children will hold on to one of the partially sighted children to get around. They all work together, for each other."

Pointing to the fast football game on the rubberised surface, instead of hard tar, to keep injuries to a minimum, he explained: "Those children are partially sighted and so they can hardly see anything.

Dropped kerbs and tactile paving

"They have to put everything into seeing that ball. The blind children put a bell in the middle of the ball when they play."

The children had taken the short walk over from the school for the low-key official opening of the park on pretty Beroma Crescent, on the outskirts of Bellville.

City of Cape Town mayoral committee member for transport, Brett Herron, leaned against a fence near a large wooden climbing gym and slide, pleased that the park was a success.

The playground was built from the money left over after a street upgrade for non-motorised transport in the area and accommodates the many blind adults and children who live there, or use the school, he said.

Dropped kerbs and tactile paving are evident in the suburb, including a crossing over the busy road that links the suburb to the Bellville CBD.

The city asked the school's principal what else the blind would need to make the area easier to live in.

(Jenni Evans, News24)

Mosaic bench

That was easy - the children wanted a playground that they could use safely.

While the children played, artists Lovell Friedman and Mbuyekezo Mpoza were putting on the finishing touches to the first stages of a magnificent long mosaic bench that teaches the visitor about nature and provides a few brainteasers.

Not only is the long bench for resting, or admiring the mountains in the distance, but it also helps provide the echoes the blind use to locate where they are.

Mosaic daisies and proteas are laid into the long bench, the park's "spine". Interspersed among these, are inlays of birds, proteas and seed shapes.

A line of bees "fly" along the top of the bench's backrest towards an inlay of a queen bee in the middle. If they want to take a break from the see-saws, children can run their fingers along the mosaic and count the bees. In this park, there is no "don't touch" rule.

A compass with raised points has been added to the mosaic so blind visitors can feel which direction they are facing.

"The idea was to take the theme of a garden and to have it educational and visually pleasing for everybody in the community," said Friedman.

(Jenni Evans, News24)

A place for the blind and sighted

Braille messages will be laid into benches in the park, explaining the importance of bees, how they navigate, communicate with other bees and dance. Other themes include butterflies and metamorphosis, the importance of seeds and how they are dispersed by the wind, birds and flight.

"Each part tells a story, or teaches something. It has been a labour of love," Friedman explained.

Standing to the side and watching in delight was landscape architect Samantha Glen.

"It had to be a place the blind could navigate easily and experience without their eyes. And where the blind and people who are not blind can mix easily."

Glen explains that the paths are set out geometrically and the spaces around the play equipment are enclosed so that nobody will wander into the street by accident.

"None of the playing equipment spins because they would lose their sense of direction like that."

On the edges of the playground are the beginnings of a scented garden, and when it has grown, anybody brushing against the lavender, wild garlic and rosemary will be treated to a puff of fragrance.

Read more on:    city of cape town  |  cape town  |  education  |  good news

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